Did you know that the song “The Twelve Days of Christmas” was supposedly brought to the United States by a Milwaukee-Downer College professor? Popular opinion holds that you can thank (or blame) Emily Frances Brown for the ubiquity of this song during this time of year. Marguerite Schumann wrote colorfully about this attribution in a 1964 Post-Crescent article.
Ms. Brown was a professor of English at Milwaukee-Downer from 1900 to 1945. She is most often remembered for her coordination of Christmas and May Day pageants, as well as other plays. A remembrance published in the October 1958 issue of Hawthorn Leaves describes:
“A sense of the dramatic was always evident, even in Miss Brown’s announcement of the cast for her play. She would walk down the long aisle of the college chapel on the first fall day which carried a trace of snow in the air. Under her arm she carried a large book with two wide red ribbons hanging from its pages. Suspense would mount as she opened the volume to the current entry, and slowly divulged which of the three plays was to be produced. Then she would gradually reveal the cast, saving her major roles for the final announcement, which always met with a burst of applause.”
We recently processed a collection of Emily Frances Brown’s papers; you can view the finding aid for a full description of its contents. Among other things, the collection includes the sheet music for “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” which Ms. Brown brought from Oxford, England to Milwaukee in 1910.
Post updated 2018 to correct Brown’s dates of tenure at MDC.